U-19s are the stuff of champions
It can be argued that a hypothetical audience who only watched the last ten minutes of the Under-19 SAFF Championships final while somehow being unaware of the score-line might have gotten the impression that Bangladesh were desperately chasing the game in search of a late equaliser.
Instead, in reality, Bangladesh U-19 women's team were going for the killer blow of a 2-0 lead during that period. After right-back Anai Mogini scored in the 80th minute from distance, the girls in red and green did not seem too keen to run down the clock. They did not play extra back passes or draw fouls near the corner flag, which is typically seen from teams on big occasions. The uncut gems of Bangladesh football showed no signs of suffering from the infamous finish-line anxiety which had, for instance, let the men's senior national team down in the SAFF Championships in Maldives earlier this year.
Even though the deadlock was eventually yet inevitably broken, the Maria Manda-led side had showcased technique and tenacity to display relentless proactive football prior to it. Coming into the match on the back of 19 goals and all clean sheets, the defending champions successfully managed to pin India back in their half, leaving their own goalkeeper Rupna Chakma feeling the chilly weather from having very little to do throughout the finale yesterday.
On the other hand, the resilient Indian team were not predicted to roll over that easily. They would have been wary of the threats they were up against, especially after how Bangladesh desecrated Sri Lanka 12-0 in the penultimate match of the tournament. Toothless in attack, however, India did exceedingly well to their credit in keeping the spine of their defense compact and had prevented the hosts from piercing decisive passes to have clear-cut shots on goal. Although, one could not blame them for resorting to taking the one-sided affair all the way to the wire of tie-breakers at any cost, all the while hoping to sneak in a goal against the run of play.
Throughout the match, forwards Rituparna Chakma and Tohura Khatun kept tormenting the visitors periodically with penetrating runs while the defenders, the likes of Akhi Khatun and Shamsunnahar displayed composure and game-reading abilities beyond their years behind skipper Maria, who pulled the strings from the centre of the midfield like clockwork, as usual. However, it was the attitude from the young tigresses after they drew first blood that stood out like a cherry on top, showing the world the stuff of what champions are made of.
The impression given by the charges of Golam Rabbani Choton was of the desire to seal the game with a double-dose of knockout punches to India. But it also resembled that the U-19s were playing for fun while the whole nation held their breath. Seeing the indomitable girls in action almost felt like a jubilant neighbourhood bunch enjoying a game of football in the rain or at the beach or a combination of both. All of what transpired in the final stages of the high-staked encounter encapsulated one of the universal traits of a great team: one that revive the essence of the sport, which was tailor-made to entertain like no other.
And indeed, the 15,000 spectators jam-packed at the Birshreshtha Shaheed Mostafa Kamal Stadium in Kamalapur were thoroughly entertained. Apart from seeing a historical triumph up-close on home soil, the buzzing crowd also witnessed something incredible: glimpses of the art of Total Football. How a group of talented individuals effortlessly turned the whole larger than the sum of its parts with superior chemistry, speed of thought and execution, was there for all to see. Not only were Bangladesh determined to win, they just had to do it in style. Apparently, India's flame of hope was extinguished before it could even flicker.
Also, the eventual score-line did not tell the whole story, as it often does not as history suggests. And irrespective of the result yesterday, the horizon of potential for these powerhouse girls would have arguably kept expanding as they possess the magnetic force to attract spectators in numbers based on their quality alone. Moreover, drawing a full house as a youth team is no mean feat.
The latest feather in the crown of this brilliant batch of players has wonderfully coincided with the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence as well. Thus, will it be too farfetched to assume that the glory days of the once-passionate, football-loving country is all set to rise from the ashes?